“Mr. Peters’ Connections” is a fascinating
glimpse into the mind of an aging American.
As Miller says in his Preface, “Mr. Peters is in that suspended
state of consciousness which can come upon a man taking a nap,
when the mind, still close to consciousness and self-awareness,
is freed to roam from real memories to conjectures, from trivialities
to tragic insights, from terror of death to glorying in one’s
The locale, in
Peter J. Davison’s set, is dreamlike: gauzy cubist skyscrapers
rise behind a derelict night-club with its chairs and a player
piano piled in a corner.
Incongruously, an Eames chair and stool at stage left provide
a seat for Peters who, as the play begins, wanders in from the
audience with a new pair of shoes in a box, and proceeds to try
them on. Some of the characters are alive, like Peters and his
wife, and a young couple named Leonard and Rose, who is pregnant.
Others are dead, like Peters’ earlier love, Cathy-Mae,
and his brother Charley who also appears as Calvin, the manager
of the premises
As Miller observes in his Preface, “the
dead in memory do not quite die and often live more vividly than
in life.” Or as T.
S. Eliot writes in “Little Gidding,” “And what the dead had no
speech for, when living,/ They can tell you, being dead.”
The difference between Miller’s new play and “Death of
a Salesman” and “After the Fall,” both of which introduce characters
from the past who are now dead, is that Mr. Peters’ dead return
as the dead, not as their living selves in episodes of the past
relived in the present.
The effect is eerie.
Cathy-Mae is seen as a beautiful blonde doing a strip-tease
behind a scrim, but she soon “freezes” into the stiffness of the
dead. She says nothing,
only, at one point, breathes as Peters listens to her chest and
recalls the ocean and footsteps; then she emits a hollow, dying
As in a dream, there are no transitions
or connections; the thread that ties them together is Mr. Peters’
seeking a meaning, asking for connections, as he keeps repeating
“What is the subject?” We
glean that Harry Peters retired eighteen years ago as a Pan Am
pilot and before that, served as a pilot in World War II, of which
he is proud: “Behind our propellers we were saving the world.”
And then he asks, “Where has all the sweetness gone?”
One thing about the war, he says, is that you had no fear,
because “we were good and they were bad.”
“The thing is,” he cautions young Leonard, “not to be afraid.”
Leonard replies, “We’re afraid.”
In the corner, under ragged blankets,
sits a black bag lady, Adele, who comments on the action from
time to time, or volunteers information, like a catalog of the
“extras” on her mother’s Buick. She, says Miller, “is neither dead nor alive, but simply Peters’
construct, the to-him incomprehensible black presence on the dim
borders of his city life.”
She may represent Death, although her remarks are often
There is more humor in the work than
one would expect from the subject matter.
The young couple earnestly believe in the significance
of what one eats or drinks.
Rose recommends bananas and Leonard, avoiding lead in the
water, the cause of the downfall of the Roman empire.
Calvin the night-club manager assumes several guises, including
that of Peters’ brother Charley.
At first, Calvin pretends to be a Russian musician.
Dropping the accent, he relates a history of the building
in which they find themselves – formerly a bank, from behind whose
polished grills customers were regarded with suspicion, then a
library – and all the characters speak in whispers.
Next, it was a night-club, as suggested by the furnishing,
but Vietnam, and “the little men in their black pajamas,” says
Calvin, put an end to all night-clubs.
In each encounter with Calvin aka brother Charley,
“the competition between them is very much alive in Peters’ mind
along with its enduring absurdities,” notes Miller.
One of the humorous absurdities is the brothers’ contesting
whose feet are more narrow.
The next moment can be a tragic-comic one, when Peters
undergoes the older person’s temporary loss of memory, as he cannot
remember his wife’s name and must run down the alphabet to recall
that it is “Charlotte.”
To top that, he cannot remember his own name either.
A frightening episode is Peters’ conjecture
of the man Cathy-May might have married, a bully who calls her
a whore for not wearing underwear, and leads her by a dog leash.
Also chilling are the stiff stances Cathy-Mae and Charley assume
as the dead, especially when Charley also turns on the audience
his colorless eyes. As produced by the Almeida Theatre in London
and on tour, and expertly directed by Michael Blakemore, this
tragic-comic, chilling, and always engrossing play ends with Peters
asking another question in his search for connections.
To the strains of Brahm’s lullaby, as his child (formerly
Rose) nestles up to him, speaking of love, he asks, “I wonder
could that be the subject?”